Psychology researchers probe how juries evaluate jailhouse informant testimony

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (Oct. 30, 2019) – Jailhouse informant testimony in a legal trial seems to exist at the intersection of two old TV shows, “Law and Order” and “Let’s Make a Deal.” There’s almost always a reward for it, and you’d think that should mitigate against accepting its truthfulness.

Yet false testimony from jailhouse informants is one of the leading causes of wrongful convictions, according the Innocence Project, and it is the leading cause of wrongful convictions in capital cases. So, why does psychological research show a jury bias toward believing snitches?

The history of jailhouse informant testimony and how it relates to the administration of justice are the subjects of a chapter written by two graduate students in psychology at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) for a forthcoming book.

Based on research they did along with graduate student Lexi Mecikalski, Baylee Jenkins and Alexis Le Grand co-authored a chapter in “Advances in Psychology and Law” by Dr. Stacy Wetmore, a tenure-track professor at Roanoke College in Salem, Va., who earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at UAH. The book is expected to be published in 2020.

The research is being done in collaboration with Dr. Jonathon Golding, a professor of developmental, social and health psychology at the University of Kentucky, who stages the mock jury trials and then has the jurors debate the trial and how they assess the primacy of jailhouse informant testimony.

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